By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Using imagery such as “spring training” and “hunger for justice,” U.S. bishops are promoting Lent as a way of strengthening personal ties with God and grappling with social problems harming human dignity.
In separate messages, many bishops listed social issues for Lenten action. These included immigration reform, an end to the death penalty and helping children in need ranging from victims of sex abuse to orphans of war.
Messages also emphasized the link between Lent and the sacrament of reconciliation. Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl accompanied a Lenten pastoral letter with a major campaign encouraging Catholics to receive the sacrament.
Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., issued a similar pastoral letter and called on pastors in all parishes to set up an extra hour each week during Lent for confessions.
Detroit Cardinal Adam J. Maida likened Lent to “spring training” when baseball players limber up their bodies before the regular season.
“Lent is about learning to stretch — reaching out toward the God who is already reaching out toward us,” Cardinal Maida said in a statement in the Feb. 16 issue of the archdiocesan newspaper, The Michigan Catholic.
“Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we also ‘stretch’ ourselves by reaching out to our neighbors in need,” he said.
The Diocese of Orange, Calif., launched a “Hunger for Justice” campaign asking Catholics to fast for one day during the week of March 26 and to send cards to their elected representatives calling for comprehensive immigration reform.
“For many of these people (immigrants), hunger is not a choice. Their hunger moves them to look for a better life,” said Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto of Orange, in announcing the campaign Feb. 21 during an Ash Wednesday Mass homily.
“Together we can hunger and pray for justice. We are all invited to ask our elected representatives to work for an immigration reform that is just and humane,” said Bishop Soto.
Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony asked Catholics to help ease the pains of “children in special need.” These include victims of “neglect and abuse, even within the church,” said the cardinal Feb. 21 during an Ash Wednesday Mass homily.
He also listed “children without a father or mother because of their death while serving in our military,” orphans and refugees of the fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan, victims of forced labor and human trafficking, and “children left behind as undocumented parents are deported to their country of origin.”
The cardinal asked Catholics to dedicate prayers and charitable activities to one of these groups during Lent and said that his efforts would be aimed at helping the children of immigrants.
Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput asked that Lent be a time to reinforce the church’s “culture of life,” especially its efforts to abolish the death penalty.
Regarding the death penalty, he said that “we don’t need it. It does not deter crime.”
In a column on Lent appearing in the Feb. 21 issue of the Denver Catholic Register, his archdiocesan newspaper, Archbishop Chaput called the death penalty “gravely flawed and unworthy of a civilized culture.”
San Antonio Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said that the church’s emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation during Lent offers society a countersign to “an emerging culture of revenge” in which stirring up divisions takes precedence over dialogue.
“So much of our politics is polarized and angry,” he said in a Feb. 21 pastoral letter on Lent.
“Instead of trying to settle differences through conversation and compromise, more and more people are turning to the legal system, seeking to have judges and juries punish their adversaries or push their legal agendas,” he said.
Archbishop Gomez criticized a “terrorist mind-set” that opposes forgiveness.
“The terrorist instead harbors anger and bitterness for the wrongs he believes to have been done to him. He seeks not reconciliation but violent revenge, even against the unsuspecting innocent,” he said.
Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali said Lent is a time to use the “arms of Christian penance,” defined as prayer, fasting and good works.
These “attune us more closely to the workings of God’s grace in us,” he said in a Lenten letter to be distributed in parishes during the Feb. 24-25 weekend.
Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services said that Lent is a special time to renew the promises made at Baptism.
“Prayerfully concerned as we are about the war that engages us across the ocean, Lent directs our concern to the war within, where the flesh wars against the spirit,” he said in an Ash Wednesday letter.
“May the prayers on our lips — prayers for peace and for our military peace-seekers — find a hearing in the generous heart of our Father in heaven,” said Archbishop O’Brien.
The military archdiocese includes all U.S. military personnel and their families.
Archbishop Wuerl of Washington on Jan. 25 made public a Lenten pastoral letter which said that by using the sacrament of penance each Catholic becomes “a witness to God’s wondrous mercy.”
To encourage greater use of the sacrament, the archdiocese also initiated a campaign called “The Light Is On for You.”
The campaign includes a user-friendly brochure, which offers a guide on how to go to confession and a wallet-size card with an act of contrition on it. The archdiocese was promoting the initiative in ads on buses and subway cars. Parishes also were instructed to make confession available from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. each Wednesday in Lent starting Feb. 28.
In Rockville Centre Bishop Murphy warned that there is a tendency today to forget about the reality of sin. “I pray that this will change because ultimately this constant act of individual censorship by which we repress the acknowledgment of sin in our lives and pretend that ‘all is well’ will destroy us,” he wrote.
He reaffirmed the diocese’s tradition of hearing confessions in every parish from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday of Holy Week and asked pastors to institute, in addition to regular Saturday afternoon confessions, another regular hour during the week to invite people to come and celebrate the sacrament. “No Catholic should ever fear entering the confessional,” he said.